Bonhams – Hong Kong – had a massive 38.5% unsold lot rate at their recent whisky auction. Just 61.5% of lots sold on the day.
Conversely, Whisky-Online Auctions has an unsold lot rate of 0%. Zero percent! They have a no-reserve policy; and in the current buoyant market, that seems good practice. If the market softens, that good old reserve-price comfort blanket may well get dusted off, but for now it’s almost surplus to requirement.
I’d view Bonhams 61.5% lot-sold-rate (LSR) as a pretty disappointing performance from arguably one of the world’s most significant whisky auctioneers. So what happened?
Before we get into some cold hard facts about the winners and the not-so-winners from a brand perspective; in our opinion we suspect part of that poor performance is that we’re seeing a gradual homogenisation of global market pricing. Estimates, in some instances, were massively over UK values. Many of these bottles failed to sell. The rough rule of thumb used to be that auction sales values in HK were roughly double what they were in the UK. That really no longer applies. In-fact some sales prices, even for the mighty Karuizawa, were actually lower than prices in the UK. As the burgeoning UK internet-auction scene has become a truly world wide web, are we now seeing the creation of a level playing field… from a pricing perspective at least?
From a regional secondary-market brand perspective, (putting aside pricing differences and over-estimation), there are some clear trends emerging for popular bottles/distilleries.
Taking 61.5% as the average LSR let’s take a look at which brands are like a summer in Hong Kong… That’ll be hot then!
The highest LSR was Glenmorangie with 100%. Good old Tain titans, the 16 men pull out a perfect score (when is a lady ever going to permeate that most elusive of men’s clubs!?!?!). A whole two out of two bottles sold… so from that basis the data set is hardly revealing. Conversely, Bruichladdich saw three bottles at auction and took a big fat ‘oh’. Zero percent sold… Great bottles too, shame. Overpriced. No demand?
The two big guns were clearly Karuizawa and Macallan. East versus west in a sherry bomb barrage of superb open-market liquid.
Karuizawa reigned supreme with a market leading 89.7% LSR as 52 out of 58 bottles hammered-out successfully. Craigellachies finest, Macallan, managed a LSR of just 51.2% as 21 out of 41 bottles hit reserve. While the LSR was impressive, many Karuizawa prices fell in HK as they have in the UK… apart from that bottle (the 1960 50 year old), which again highlighted the krazy world of the professional Karuizawa collector. I am minded to think of the Pepsi-Max in sunny Blackpool whenever I delve into Karuizawa prices!
Staying with the sherried theme, the increasingly in-demand Glendronach took an 80% LSR as 4 out of 5 bottles sold. Not a conclusive victory at these miniscule levels, but none-the-less an interesting fact.
Closest to Karuizawa and just above Glendronach, from a Scotch perspective, came Highland Park with an impressive 87.5% LSR: 7 out of 8 bottles found new homes. It has to be pointed out that the bottles were exceptional rarities so it was scant surprise competition was particularly stiff. Springbank then came in with a convincing 66.7% LSR as 8 out of 12 bottles sold.
From this we know that Karuizawa is as popular in HK as it is in the UK but irrespective of the number of bottles sold, prices still softened. In some cases we saw bottles sell for less than they do in the UK. Have Karuizawa prices paved the way for harmonisation of values world-wide?
Particularly different to the UK, some of our silent stills appear like they have yet to appeal to the eastern hearts, minds and palates (or maybe they were simply too expensive?). Port Ellen had a good selection of 40 bottles at the auction but could manage a LSR of just 35% when 14 sold. Brora fared even worse with just 3 of 14 bottles taking flight, giving a 21.4% LSR. Rosebank, saw a little more action as 4 of 10 bottles moved. Whether estimates were simply too high (they were certainly eye watering from a UK viewpoint) or the frenzy for silent stills is yet to infect HK who knows?
A fascinating auction and one which suggests values are aligning globally. Worthy of note; just under a year ago, in the February 2015 HK Bonhams auction, Macallan had an 85.3% LSR when 29 out of 34 lots sold.
Changing trends ahead?
Or simply aligning prices?